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What sales skills need continuous development?

By: Justin Vanhartingsveldt, Co-President & Co-Founder, SalesEvolve

What sales skills need continuous development? When I was asked to provide my advice on this subject, I felt the standard answer probably applied. “All sales skills require continuous development.” With the obvious answer out of the way, I’d like to provide something to you that I hope will be a little more meaningful. 

At SalesEvolve, we spend a significant amount of time coaching, training and mentoring people, as well helping companies improve how they generate revenue. Therefore, my top 5 sales skills to continuously develop are based upon the common needs we see in most organizations. I also chose the following because if you do them well, many of the other sales skills will polish as a natural byproduct. Perhaps some of these will be unexpected to you.

Justin’s top 5 sales skills to be in continuous development:

1) Qualification

Arguably one of the most important skillsets in sales, qualification is highly important to keep developing. So much of the customer’s experience and our success in sales depends on qualifying well. 

What is qualification? In terms of this article, it’s simply the act of asking intelligent questions to immerse you into the customer’s world. It helps you to understand their challenges, and to give you enough insight to competently solve challenges in ways that are meaningful to them. It is about truly listening to your clients.

When you qualify well, you become good at disqualifying opportunities that aren’t a fit between you and your client. Additionally, it highlights sources of potential objections or challenges the client may have with what you provide—and helps you understand how to respond to objections in meaningful ways.

Asking intelligent, engaged questions shows to clients that you are actively listening to them. This builds trust between both parties. Not only does qualifying well increase your chances of winning business with clients, it also improves the quality of your sales pipeline. Lastly, qualifying well helps you understand how to lead the customer to the right decision about what it is you provide.   

2) Sales Achievement Planning

Do you or your staff have quotas, targets and objectives to achieve for the month, quarter or year?  Creating plans that frame the daily, weekly and monthly activities to achieve those goals is a skillset that is largely forgotten about in many training programs. We teach this subject religiously in our training programs due to its ability to impact success.

Achievement plans are vital to the success of your organization. Managers and Sr. Executives love them because they provide a path to achieving the company’s objectives and help focus their team members on the right activities. Outside of the initial pain of creating their first achievement plan, sales staff begin to embrace them because it builds hope to achieving goals, articulating challenges to management, and determining how they can meet their variable income goals.

If sales achievement plans are not part of your repertoire, you are missing out on one of the most powerful tools to attain success in sales.

3) Customer Focused Messaging

Many sales teams have developed pitches, scripts, e-mail templates and words they use to help describe what it is they do or how they can help.  However, many of those pitches use a lot of words like “we do this, we do that..” or “I help clients by…”. While packed with good intentions, these words are actually all about the salesperson or the company they represent. To the receiving party (your clients), these words sound “salesy”. 

The very best salespeople carefully select their words and position their communications in terms that provide value to the client. How do you know if your messaging will resonate well with your client? Put yourself in the client’s shoes. Review your messaging and ask yourself, “is it explicitly clear what I will get out of this?”. If not, you have some work to do.  Avoid the “we do this” focus. Adopt a focus on the value your clients will receive from working with you. Developing this discipline can be harder than it seems but when it becomes natural language, you will set yourself apart from the majority in your field.

4) Progressing Sales

Many salespeople pay attention to sales opportunities according to the stages within their sales process—whether formal or intuitively developed. For example, Prospecting, Qualification, Demonstration, Quote, Negotiate, Close, etc. These buckets help staff understand the work that they need to do to help clients in their buying journey. When one stage of work is complete, sometimes sales staff will wait for the customer to express desire to move into the next stage of their customer journey.

The spaces in-between each stage of your sales process are where clients are making their decisions about you and where sales cycles can break down. Don’t believe me? Think about where your potential clients often go quiet or end the sales cycle. Is it after you send them a quote? Have you ever had someone go quiet after a product demonstration or perhaps when they receive your contract or proposal? You need to be an expert in leading the way, setting expectations, keeping the process organized and staying on top of how the customer is feeling along the way.

5) Account Development Planning

Developing business within your existing customer base is something that takes a lot of skill, determination and time. However, it also takes a lot of planning and organization. Developing your customer accounts is not a matter of sending an occasional e-mail or making a well-timed phone call to see if they have any new projects on the horizon. Instead, developing accounts requires a skillset that is similar to what business consultants do.  It requires getting to know your clients in depth which includes their business cycles, organizational structures, challenges that they have in each department or business group, plans for the future, etc. It also includes awareness building, introducing others, and discovering challenges that you or people in your network can solve. Developing accounts requires active engagement, not passively “checking in”.

Account planning is simply a matter of developing a document that serves as a repository for what you know about your client, how they are structured and highlighting the areas in the business which you have not been able to help yet. Then for each area you have not been involved in, identifying your opportunities and developing plans to achieve them. 

If account planning is new to you, you’ll quickly discover how much you do not know about your clients and how much you can help them. The knowledge gaps are where you will likely discover opportunity. When you become good at account planning, your work with clients will naturally focus and you will see your revenue from accounts grow significantly over time.

So that is my list of the top 5 skillsets in sales that require continuous development. What are yours? Are there any areas that you need help in or would like us to write about? Reach out to us and we’ll be sure to review it.